Archive for April 26th, 2011
Looking back at “Kawataro,” I’m impressed by how quickly it all came together. Although the initial idea occurred to me somewhat earlier, I didn’t start researching it in earnest until April 12 of last year, which was a Monday. I spent the next few days reading and brainstorming, finished an outline on Friday, and began writing the story the following week. The first draft was finished by April 23, and by April 26—exactly one year ago—I had a revised version that changed very little before its final publication. All in all, then, the research, writing, and revision of “Kawataro” took about two weeks, followed by a period of almost a year before it saw the light of day, which is pretty typical of the magazine publication cycle. (“The Boneless One,” which is coming out this fall, will have taken almost three and a half years from conception to publication.)
Once I had the initial version, the revision of “Kawataro” was fairly painless. While some stories continue to evolve dramatically until the final draft—”The Boneless One,” for instance, has an entirely different ending from the version that I originally sent to Analog—the revision of “Kawataro” was just a matter of tightening the story and polishing the prose, or at least as much as could be done in three or four days. The first, incredibly messy draft was 13,300 words long, which I cut down to 10,700 very quickly, thus obeying Stephen King’s dictum by editing the first version by almost 20%. In retrospect, I wish I’d had another couple of days to polish the draft, but by that point I had to get back to work on The Icon Thief, so I had no choice but to send the story out as it was.
The first magazine to see “Kawataro” was Fantasy & Science Fiction, which rejected it. (I still haven’t been published there.) I honestly can’t remember why they turned it down, and while I probably have the rejection slip lying around here somewhere, it’s currently buried under countless other piles of junk. Analog was the next stop. (I would have sent it there first, but they already had another story of mine under consideration, and they don’t like it when you submit more than one story at a time.) I sent the manuscript off on July 17, and my first indication that they wanted to take it was three months later, when managing editor Trevor Quachri emailed to ask for a Word file of the story. At first, I thought that the acceptance letter had been lost in the mail, but it turns out that Stanley Schmidt liked it enough to accept it without corrections. Which is great—it’s the first and only time Analog has accepted a story of mine without changes—although to this day I’m not entirely sure what Stan thinks of it.
And what do I think of “Kawataro” today? Reading it over again, I couldn’t help but notice places where I would have revised the story if I’d had more time—some of the transitions between scenes, for instance, aren’t great—but all in all, I’m pleased by it. The writing is generally good, the setting is spooky and atmospheric, and overall, it’s a tight, compelling story. (My sister-in-law paid me the ultimate compliment by saying that she found it unsettling enough that she had to remind herself that it was only a story I’d written—which is basically the nicest thing a writer can hear.) And the various elements come together in a way that seems seamless, at least to my eyes. After enough time has passed, a story begins to assume a life of its own, until even the author has trouble remembering where all the pieces came from. As a result, I’ve really enjoyed reconstructing the process over the past few days, and hope that you’ve found it interesting as well.
Luck, if there is such a thing, is either going to favor everyone equally or going to exhibit a preference for the prepared. When I was young, I had a teacher who said that everyone, in the course of a twenty-year career, was going to get the same breaks—some at the beginning, some at the end. I second and endorse his observation as true. “Luck,” in one’s business dealings, and “talent,” its equivalent onstage, seem to reward those with an active and practicable philosophy.
—David Mamet, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor